5 July 2019

Fight, flight or freeze? How to manage change well

During organisational change, colleagues’ emotions can become primitive.

Fight, flight or freeze decreases our ability to plan, make rational decisions or focus on the future – all skills we need our people to embody during times of change.  

According to Harvard Business Review, 70% of change efforts fail. Why? The number one reason is communications: infrequent, inadequate or ill-thought through.

So what can we do about it? There are various avenues you can take in dealing with change. We love Kubler Ross’ change curve for its accessibility. The thorough approach of John Kotter’s 8 Steps is brilliant. But for now let’s focus on David Rock’s SCARF model. It’s one of our favourite ways of guiding campaign activity during change.


The model

STATUS – how we perceive ourselves compared to others

CERTAINTY – our ability to predict the future

AUTONOMY – our sense of control

RELATEDNESS – our sense of safety with others

FAIRNESS – our perception of fair exchanges between people


Some helpful pointers for using it in practice


  • Recognise and celebrate colleague achievements
  • Stress the continued value of colleagues
  • Look back before you look ahead


  • Talk about your known knowns
  • Be open about your known unknowns
  • Provide certainty of comms, even if you can’t provide certainty of content


  • Involve colleagues as much as possible
  • Give people choices
  • Set a goal and allow colleagues to choose how to accomplish it


  • Encourage people to talk face-to-face
  • Use Workplace by Facebook for two-way comms
  • Break down barriers between sites/roles to avoid ‘friend or foe’


  • Ensure decision-making is transparent and rationales are clear
  • Seek out and show consideration to colleague feedback
  • Spread information quickly, clearly and widely


Approaching change in these ways can help people to feel informed and involved, even when things aren’t completely certain. When it comes to change, communicating well and taking people along on the journey with you can sometimes be the best way. 

We’re working with brands like Sovereign Housing Association, RBS and Vodafone on their transformation stories – ensuring their communications are pitched just right to inspire the needed behavioural change from their people at each point of the journey. If you’re looking to implement a change programme and need help with how to communicate it internally, give us a shout and we’ll be happy to help. 

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